Westlaw or Lexis?

One of the questions students frequently ask me is whether they should use Westlaw or Lexis.  My answer is the always frustrating “both.”  Why?  The fact is that you simply don’t have much control over which you’ll be using in practice, so you should get to know both systems in law school.  It’s true that some large firms have access to both Westlaw and Lexis, but those firms are rare and I imagine those that offer both will decline in the future as firms continue to cut costs.

In today’s legal research environment, you simply don’t know what legal research system you’ll see.  Plenty of firms only have Westlaw, plenty of firms only have Lexis, and plenty of firms switch from one to the other.  I know of a Salt Lake firm who has recently switched from Westlaw to Lexis.  I’ve heard that the Utah courts have switched from Lexis to Westlaw.  Either one of these scenarios could easily happen at your job, which is why law school is a great place to get familiar with both.

In law school your Westlaw/Lexis access is subsidized by your law library.  That means access is essentially free to you, making this a great time to practice using these systems effectively and efficiently.  Because they’re not getting charged, some students don’t worry about efficient research.  I think that’s a mistake.  Trying to shake off 3 years of bad research habits is not what you want to be doing when you’re starting a job and learning to bill clients.  Take the time to practice good research habits in law school and try using both Westlaw and Lexis as you do.

My answer gets more complicated when we start talking about firms that don’t use Westlaw or Lexis, but I’ll save that for another day.

 

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